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THE MESSAGE 
OF FRANCIS 
THOMPSON 



UCSB LIBRARY 








THE MESSAGE OF 
FRANCIS THOMPSON 



THIS PAPER WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN 

FOR THE GLASGOW CENTRE OF 

THE ENGLISH ASSOCIATION 



THE (MESSAGE OF 
FRANCIS THOMPSON 



BY 
A SISTER OF NOTRE DAME 



.:;. - >.'. t ..?M.-.,.v,>(jf i (.-. ;. . 




LONDON 
BURNS GATES & WASHBOURNE Ltd 

28 Orchard St., W, I, & 8-10 Paternoster Row, E.G. 4 

AND . AT . MANCHESTER . BIRMINGHAM . AND . GLASGOW 

1920 




THE MESSAGE OF 
FRANCIS THOMPSON 

NOW you what it is to be a child ?" 
says Francis Thompson, " It is 
to be something very different 
from the man of to-day. It is to have 
a spirit yet streaming from the waters of 
baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe 
in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be 
so little that the elves can reach to whisper 
in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into 
coaches and mice into horses, lowness into 
loftiness and nothing into everything (for 
each child has its fairy godmother in its own 
soul); it is to live in a nutshell, and to count 
yourself the king of infinite space; it is 

* To see a world in a grain of sand, 
And a heaven in a wild-flower, 
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, 
And eternity in an hour/ " 

5 



Now what is true of the child is no less 
true of the poet. A greater than Francis 
Thompson warned His hearers : " Unless you 
become as little children, you shall not enter 
into the kingdom of heaven." And we may 
reverently add: " Unless you become as 
little children, unless you have their inno- 
cence, their faith, their hope, their love, you 
shall not enter into your full inheritance in 
the kingdom of song." The poet is essen- 
tially a seer. His mission is to discover the 
secrets of God and to proclaim them to men; 
to read the book of Nature and interpret 
it for us; to make us see with his eyes and hear 
with his ears. But how shall we, too, learn 
our lesson if he speak to us in an alien 
tongue ? how feel with him if our eyes are 
blinded, our ears deafened by alien sights 
and sounds ? " By the law of Nature," 
Thompson reminds us, "no man can admire, 
no man can understand that of which he has 
no echo in himself. Such an echo implies 
an experience kindred, if not equal, to that 
of the utterer." Now this experience may, 
of course, be gained directly and personally, 
6 



or indirectly, from the experience of others. 
Our sympathy with a poet depends, there- 
fore, either on the fact that he sees what 
we see, hears what we hear, and feels what 
we feel, and that he expresses all this in a 
way which is at once luminous and beautiful; 
or that he excites and expands our imagina- 
tion by showing us something we have never 
seen before, whether it be a new beauty in 
what is familiar, or something which has 
never before entered into our circle of 
experience. Sympathy and imagination are, 
then, the two wings by which we must follow 
the poet into the realms of song. He may, 
alas ! fly low, and keep us ever within the 
sights and sounds of earth, but if he be true 
to his high vocation, he will lead us into those 
upper regions where the sights we shall see 
and the sounds we shall hear are preludes 
to those things God has prepared for them 
that love Him. This is essentially true of 
the religious poet. I use the word 
" religious " rather than " mystical " because 
loose speaking is at once the cause and effect 
of loose thinking; and perhaps no words are 
7 



more abused in modern speech than the 
words " mystic " and " mystical/' A man 
is sometimes called a mystic when he merely 
possesses the mental acumen to realise the 
existence of a mystical state. Or, again, 
the term is often applied to one who happens 
to be both enthusiastic and obscure, not 
living like the rest of the world, and taking 
dreams for realities. Still more common 
is the confusion caused by using the words 
" ascetic " and " mystic " as if they stood 
for one and the same thing. Asceticism is 
that temper of mind and feeling which con- 
siders the material world as valueless and 
meaningless except in its relation with higher 
things; it is that judgment of a man's higher 
self which sees clearly, and pronounces 
definitely, that the invisible world of the 
spirit, beyond our world of sense perception, 
is the real end and the true. Asceticism, 
therefore, means self-denial even in things 
that are lawful, for it is obvious that sense 
and appetite restrained are powerful aids 
to contemplation and the higher life. The 
more easily we sit loose to the things of this 
8 



world, the more easily we shall make those 
of the next our own. Thoreau, who tried 
to live, not indeed the supernatural life, 
but a higher form of the natural, as opposed 
to the artificial and conventional forms of 
life, has embodied this truth for us in the 
well-known dictum: " Reduce your common 
denominator/' Yet it is not the mere doing 
without, the power to say " yes " or " no " 
to one's desires, the self-infliction of pain, 
which constitutes Christian asceticism. This 
were to mistake the means for the end. Just 
as the man who is going on a long day's 
march to a definite goal reduces his impedi- 
menta to a minimum, just as the athlete 
restricts his diet in order to make himself 
more physically fit for the contest, so the 
Christian ascetic frees himself from all those 
material trammels which may hold his spirit 
back in its progress in the spiritual life. 

But this ascesis or self-discipline is not 
mysticism. " In the strict sense of the word," 
says one who has studied the subject for 
forty years, " we give the name ' mystic ' to 
supernatural states containing knowledge 
9 



of a kind that our own efforts and our own 
exertions could never succeed in producing." 
And he illustrates this definition by adding: 
" Ordinary prayer may be compared to the 
atmosphere that surrounds our globe. The 
birds move about in it at their will. Thanks 
to its aid they can rise above the earth, and 
they mount higher in proportion to the 
strength of their wing-beats. But this atmo- 
sphere has its limits. Above lie those vast 
expanses that stretch away to the stars and 
beyond. Try as they may they cannot 
penetrate thither even by redoubling their 
efforts. The eagle is as powerless as the 
rest. God alone can transport them into 
this region; were He to do so, they would 
lie passive in His hand, there would be no 
further need to use their wings. They 
would have to discard their former methods 
of operation and adopt new ones. This 
upper region where the wing no longer has 
any power is a figure of the mystic state. 
It resembles it also by its peace, its silence. 
Far from the turmoil of earth we enter into 
a space empty of all created things. God 
10 



alone dwells there/* God alone can trans- 
port us there. This is sometimes the reward 
of the saintly on earth, those who have passed 
long years in self-denial and prayer. Yet it 
is essential to remember that not all saints 
are mystics: " The Spirit bloweth where it 
listeth," and for many nay, for most the 
Vision is withheld till after death. 

Now the question arises: How far is the 
vision of the poet akin to that of the mystic ? 
There are saints, such as St. Bernard, St. 
Francis, St. Teresa, and St. John of the 
Cross, who were at once poets and mystics, 
whose works reveal to us, according to our 
receptive power, those spiritual experiences 
with which God favoured them. And it may 
well be that the works of many poets, whose 
saintliness is hidden from human eyes, may, 
indeed, do so likewise. Such spiritual com- 
munications between God and the soul are, 
however, the secret of the King, which we 
must respect. But we may safely assume 
that religious poets in general are endowed 
with a genius and power of imagination akin, 
albeit most remotely, to the true mystical 
iz 



vision of the saints, and because of this distant 
affinity we may accord them, at least, the 
courtesy title of mystical poet. 

What is the mission of such a poet ? He 
has to bring home to our earthly and finite 
minds supernatural and infinite truths; he 
has to translate for us the things of the spirit 
by the things of sense; he has to give 
the supernatural as many points of contact 
as possible with the natural; he has to en- 
able us to apprehend by means of material 
symbols those spiritual realities which tran- 
scend human experience. All this he has 
to do for us and more. The more exquisitely 
sensitive he is to the impressions of the ex- 
ternal world, the better he can bring home 
to us the beauty of the other world ; but this 
same sensitiveness may often be the cause 
of his failure to do so. Lowell tells us 
that when the mind of the poet permeates 
and illuminates his senses, he is innocently 
sensuous; but that when, on the other hand, 
they muddy his mind, he is sensual. Here, 
then, is the task which falls to the mystical 
poet to appeal to the soul through the 

12 



senses, leaving it strong in the conviction 
that 

44 All earthly beauty hath one cause and 

proof 

To lead the pilgrim soul to beauty 
above/' 

to remind us that here we have no lasting 
city, that earth is but the vestibule of heaven. 
Let us see how far Francis Thompson does 
this for his readers* 

A poet's interpretation of life depends not 
only on his natural temperament and men- 
tality, but also on his upbringing and en- 
vironment; hence, if we would apprehend 
the full significance of Francis Thompson's 
work we must make a rapid survey of his life. 
It has been said with what truth time must 
prove that he will always be a poet of the 
few. If this be so, it is not wholly because 
of the difficult form of his poetry, but because 
he assumes a knowledge of certain spiritual 
principles and practices on the part of his 
readers which to many are alien, or even 
unintelligible. 

13 



The son of a Catholic doctor in Lancashire, 
Francis Thompson was sent in 1870, at the 
age of eleven, to Ushaw College, Durham, 
the Alma Mater of Lingard the historian, 
of Cardinal Wiseman, of Waterton, and of 
many who have become notable as zealous 
priests or able laymen. Here the boy 
remained for seven years with the inten- 
tion of entering the sacred ministry; but 
watchful superiors recognised that the youth 
who shirked his appointed task to pursue 
the delights of literature, who was rarely, 
if ever, punctual at his daily duties, who was 
frequently absent in spirit even when present 
in body, was scarcely likely to become an 
ideal pastor of souls, though he might achieve 
success in some other walk of life. Yet the 
years at Ushaw were his spiritual seedtime, 
for it was there that he learned the lessons of 
uprightness and piety, never forgotten, even 
in his darkest hours; it was then, too, that 
he gained that knowledge of theology and 
of classical lore with which he enriched his 
poetry and, indeed, enriched English litera- 
ture for all time. 

14 



His father now decided that he should 
study medicine at Owens College, Man- 
chester, but after a period of neglect of work 
and evasion of duty Francis Thompson left 
home for London, aimless and practically 
penniless* Hard and bitter were his ex- 
periences. How he sold newspapers in the 
streets, how he held the heads of cab-horses at 
theatre doors, how he obtained employment 
in a boot-shop, and how, in spite of the kind- 
ness of the proprietor, he lost it, are facts 
familiar to all. Like De Quincey, whose 
Confessions) by the irony of fate, had been 
given to him by his mother, and like Cole- 
ridge, he fell a victim to the opium habit, 
and, but for what some would have called 
fortune and he would have called Providence, 
he might have become a mental and moral 
wreck. He tells us that in the latter half 
of February, 1887, " with a few shillings 
to give me breathing space, I began to de- 
cipher and put together the half-obliterated 
manuscript of * Paganism/ I came simul- 
taneously to my last page and my last half- 
penny, and went forth to drop the MS. in 
15 B 



the letter-box of Merry England" The busy 
editor, Mr. Meynell, after six months' delay, 
read the essay and, being more favourably 
impressed by it than by some of the poems, 
determined to seek out the author. But the 
letter was returned through the dead-letter 
office, and it was only by the device of print- 
ing a poem without the author's permission 
that the editor eventually got into touch with 
him. From thenceforth Francis Thompson 
found in Mr. Meynell a guide, philosopher, 
and friend nay, more, a father, for the 
freedom of the hearth was accorded to the 
lonely stranger who but lately had known not 
what it was to have a home. Nursed back 
again to health, he retired for a time to the 
old-world village of Storrington in Sussex. 
Poems was published in 1893, Sister Songs 
in 1895, and New Poems in 1897, but his 
Muse forsook him, and he busied himself as 
some hold more successfully with prose. 
His contributions to The Academy, and later 
to The Athenaeum, chiefly critical, were as 
sound in judgment as they were wide in 
sympathy. He died of consumption on 
16 



November 13, 1907, at the comparatively 
early age of forty-eight. 

It were fitting, perhaps, that we should 
here dispose of one or two legends which 
have sprung up around Francis Thompson's 
name, the fiction of great misdeeds and 
the legend of a great unhappiness. Mrs. 
Meynell and no one knew him more 
intimately wrote shortly after his death: 
" During many years of friendship and 
almost daily companionship, it was evident 
to solicitous eyes that he was the most inno- 
cent of men. Of his alienation from ordinary 
life laudanum was the sole cause, and of 
laudanum early and long disease. Cole- 
ridge's fault was Thompson's, an evasion of 
the daily duty of man to man. But," she 
continues, " not one of Francis Thompson's 
poems, except, perhaps, Dream-Tryst and 
this inferior to all others in his first volume 
was written with the aid of opium. Poems 
and Sister Songs were his work during an 
interval of a few years after his cure in a 
hospital." 

Again she writes: "Like the legend of 



Francis Thompsons sins is that of his un- 
happiness no truer. I affirm of Francis 
Thompson that he had natural good spirits, 
and was more mirthful than many a man 
of cheerful, social, or even of humorous 
reputation* . . . What darkness and op- 
pression of spirit the poet underwent was 
past and over some fifteen years before he 
died." This unimpeachable testimony must 
surely silence such hasty and ill-founded 
judgments as his who quite recently con- 
demned Thompson's work as " unintelligible 
rubbish written under the influence of opium," 
and his who wrote : " Down those few terrible 
years he let himself go with the winds of 
fancy, and threw himself on the swelling 
wave of every passion." But it may be 
urged: What, then, are we to infer from 
his self-accusation, his frequent expressions 
of remorse ? The answer is that those 
to whom has been vouchsafed a clearer per- 
ception of God view themselves and others 
also in a clearer light, and have an alto- 
gether different standard of values from the 
majority of men. The truly spiritual man 
18 



sees the gravity of the least fault committed 
against the Divine Majesty, and accuses 
himself in terms which lead the average 
man to think either that he is guilty of 
heinous sin, or that he is hypocritical. 
It is the old story of relative values, 
of consequent misinterpretations, and rash 
judgments. 

In seeking to understand the work of 
Francis Thompson we must recognise from 
the outset that he deliberately imposed upon 
himself certain limitations in his art. He 
might have achieved greatness as a national 
poet. Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie considers 
that " few laureates can compare with Thomp- 
son for deliberate celebrations." Again, he 
might have outrivalled Keats or Swinburne 
in his wonderful power of imagery, his keen- 
ness of sense-perception, his love of sheer 
beauty. But, poet as he was, he was first 
and foremost a religious poet, and it is as a 
religious poet that we must finally judge him. 
I think it is Matthew Arnold who reminds us 
that just criticism considers what the author 
professed to do, and not what the critic 
19 



thinks he ought to have done. We do not 
quarrel with the artist who chooses Venice 
rather than Glasgow for the subject of his 
picture; neither shall we blame the poet 
who is so enamoured of heavenly beauty 
that he loses, or seems to lose, sight of much 
else. Mr. Harrison blames Thompson for 
singing so little of earthly passion. Thomp- 
son knew, perhaps better than his critics, 
that as the radii of a circle draw closer to 
each other as they draw near to their common 
centre, so human hearts draw nearer to each 
other the nearer they approach to their 
common centre Christ; that he who sings 
of divine love must conceive highly and nobly 
of human love. 

And a still stricter limitation he was 
essentially a Catholic poet. His readers may 
or may not agree with his principles and 
teaching, they may not be able to give him 
full sympathy of approbation, but if they 
are to give him strict justice as a poet, they 
must at least be able to extend to him a 
certain degree of sympathy of comprehension . 
Catholicity was the very fountain of his in- 
30 



spiration, Christ and His Blessed Mother 
were his intimate friends, his angel guardian 
was his dear familiar; when he calls himself 
" poor thief of song/' it is because he has 
borrowed the very words of the noble liturgy 
of the Church; when he clothes Nature in 
imagery dignified and splendid, if to many 
unusual, it is because in the peaceful years 
at Ushaw mind, heart, and soul had drunk 
deep of the poetry of her ritual. Even the 
very obscurity of his diction is due in some 
cases, though by no means in all, to the 
inexperience of the reader rather than to 
the caprice of the poet. Such words as 
monstrance, immaculacy, auxiliatrix are not, 
perhaps, current coin of the realm, yet to 
Catholic ears their import is familiar and 
dear. 

Another aspect of Francis Thompson's 
poems is his sense of nearness to God, his 
intimacy with spiritual things an intimacy 
easily mistaken for irreverence. He himself 
asserted that the spirit of such poems as 
The Making of Viola was no mere medieval 
imitation, but the natural temper of his 

21 



Catholic training in a Catholic home. Quoting 
from Crashaw's Nativity 

" Gloomy night embraced the place 

Where that noble infant lay; 
The Babe looked up, and showed His face : 

In spite of darkness it was day. 
It was Thy day, Sweet, and did rise 
Not from the East but from Thine 
eyes " 

he remarks: " Here is seen one note of 
Crashaw the human and lover-like tender- 
ness which informs his sacred poems, differ- 
entiating them from the conventional style 
of English sacred poetry with its solemn 
aloofness from celestial things/' How true 
this is of his own work ! And how utterly 
we shall fail to grasp its meaning if we do 
not recognise the spirit of his attitude to- 
wards God and the unseen world ! 

It is not my present purpose to touch upon 
the form of Francis Thompson's poems* 
Yet it is well to note that perhaps no poet of 
modern times has excited more adverse 
criticism. To Mr. Austin Harrison his 

22 



poetry is " sheer word-chaos " nay, worse 
than this, but I will not offend your ears with 
the coarseness of the criticism in which 
irritation vents itself. Yet it is of the same 
poet's work that a writer in The Times says: 
" The whole outer form of things is flowering 
with the radiance of the inner beauty of 
the poet's vision," Mrs. Meynell, with the 
love of a mother, the vision of a poet, the 
sympathy of a fellow-artist, and the keenness 
of a critic, speaks of it as " resplendently 
coloured art with riches heaped too close." 
Mr. Arnold Bennett, no visionary, as his 
readers will allow, boldly asserts: " My belief 
is that Francis Thompson has a richer natural 
genius, a finer poetical equipment, than any 
poet save Shakespeare. Show me the 
divinest glory of Shelley and Keats, even of 
Tennyson, who wrote The Lotus Eaters and 
the songs in The Princess, and I think I can 
match them all out of this one book. I fear 
that in thus extolling Francis Thompson's 
work I am grossly outraging the canons of 
criticism. Well, please yourself what you 
think; but don't say in time to come I didn't 
23 



tell you/' Writing in a similar strain, Mr. 
Garvin claims for Francis Thompson " the 
regal air, the prophetic ardours, the apoca- 
lyptic vision, the supreme utterance. To 
many," he adds, " this may seem the simple 
delirium of over-emphasis. The writer, no- 
wise ashamed, signs for those others who 
range after Shakespeare's very sonnets the 
poetry of Francis Thompson." This is high 
praise, suspect to English ears, accustomed 
to the wariness of English especially modern 
English critics. But, when we have dis- 
counted much from what may appear the 
excess of praise or blame, the fact remains 
that the faults of which Francis Thompson 
must stand convicted are the defects of his 
qualities. He sins by the very wealth of his 
imagination, by the fecundity of his thought, 
by the lightning rapidity of his perception, 
by the height and depth of his spiritual 
intuition. Hence his riot of simile and 
metaphor, his eccentric word-coining; hence 
his apparent lack of sequence; hence his 
irritating ellipses, his digressions; hence his 
so-called obscurity, his narrow outlook. 
24 



We may or may not admit these charges, 
but we must, if we have any true poetic feel- 
ing, realise that here is no mere versifier, no 
mere singer of a day, but one who rightly 
claims high rank in the world of song. 

Mr. G. K. Chesterton says of the Victorian 
critics: " None of them were able even to 
understand Francis Thompson his sky- 
scraping humility, his mountains of mystical 
detail, his occasional and unashamed weak- 
ness, his sudden and sacred blasphemies. 
Perhaps the shortest definition of the Vic- 
torian age is that he stood outside it/* To 
what age then shall we assign him ? We 
must, I think, undoubtedly hark back to the 
seventeenth century, to the age that produced 
such men as Crashaw, Cowley, Herbert, 
Donne, Vaughan, Traherne, and Marvell. 
And, if the conjunction of all these names 
raises a question in your minds, note that, 
though they are not all mystical poets in the 
commonly accepted sense of the term, yet 
there is in them all that exaltation of the 
senses, that power of luminous vision, of 
passionate and mysterious brooding, which 
25 



characterise the poetry, both religious and 
secular, of the seventeenth century, and which 
were so conspicuous by their absence in the 
century that followed it. True, the nineteenth 
century ushered in a Blake, a Wordsworth, 
and a Coleridge, in whose works we seem to 
catch an echo of the far-off seventeenth-cen- 
tury mysticism; true, too, that in Shelley, 
in Tennyson, in Browning, perhaps, and in 
the two Rossettis we have the promise of 
another Spring. But Patmore and Francis 
Thompson seem to stand definitely apart 
from these, inasmuch as the general atmo- 
sphere of their work is spiritual and mystical, 
whereas it is only at intervals that we breathe 
this rarer air in the work of their contem- 
poraries. 

But if Francis Thompson was not of the 
nineteenth century, he at least lived in it; 
it acted and reacted upon him, it thrust its 
problems before his eyes, it whispered to 
him things both good and evil, it drew him 
by its manifold attractions, it repelled him 
by its emptiness and its delusions; it drove 
him finally to the shelter of the Everlasting 
26 



Arms, where he learned, as a child from his 
father, the solution of that great puzzle 
the meaning of life* 

" Without love/' wrote Francis Thompson, 
44 no poetry can be beautiful, for all beautiful 
poetry comes from the heart/' And again: 
14 The most beautiful thing in love-poetry is 
love/' Of this love Francis Thompson con- 
ceives highly and nobly. If it be true and 
few will dispute it that the moral greatness 
of a nation may be estimated by its attitude 
towards women, it is equally true that we may 
apply the same test to the work of a love-poet; 
his ideal of womanhood will be the determin- 
ing factor in the quality of his poetry. Now, 
Francis Thompson's ideal of womanhood 
was none other than She whom Wordsworth 
acclaimed : 

44 Woman, above all other women glorified, 
Our tainted nature's solitary boast "; 

She of whom Francis Thompson says : 

4 This, could I paint my inmost sight, 
This were our Lady of the Night, 

27 



She bears on her front's lucency 
The starlight of her purity; 
For as the white rays of that star 
The union of all colours are, 
She sums all virtues that may be 
In her sweet light of purity." 

And in so far as other women approximate 
to this ideal are they worthy of honour, 
reverence, and love. Love must be spiritual 
in its nature. " On the wings of Christianity 
came the great truth that Love is of the soul, 
and with the soul coeval. It was most just 
and natural, therefore, that from the Chris- 
tian poets should come the full development 
of its truth. To Dante and the followers 
of Dante we must go for its ripe pronounce- 
ment.'* Perhaps few poets have more com- 
pletely broken away from what has been 
aptly termed the " fleshly school of love- 
poetry " than has Francis Thompson himself. 
True, poet-like, he is keenly sensitive to the 
charms of physical beauty, but he never 
forgets that the beautiful body is but the 
casket containing that priceless gem the 
38 



soul. Listen to his tiny poem, Domus 
Tua : 

" A perfect woman Thine be laud ! 
Her body is a temple of God. 
At Doom-bar dare I make avows: 
I have loved the beauty of Thy house." 

And in Manns Animam Pinxit : 

'* Oh, therefore, you who are 
What words, being to such mysteries 

As raiment to the body is, 

Should rather hide than tell; 

Chaste and intelligential love: 

Whose form is as a grove 
Hushed with the cooing of an unseen dove; 
Whose spirit to my touch thrills purer far 

Than is the tingling of a silver bell; 

Whose body other ladies well might bear 
As soul, yea, which it profanation were 
For all but you to take as fleshly woof, 

Being spirit truest proof; 
Whose spirit sure is lineal to that 

Which sang Magnificat. 
Chastest, since such you are, 
Take this curbed spirit of mine, 
Which your own eyes invest with love 

divine." 

29 



" Exaggeration/' you will say; " Quixotism !" 
It may be so, but is there a woman living in 
the world who would not wish to deserve 
to be thus sung of ? 
Listen again: 

" How should I gauge what beauty is her 

dole, 
Who cannot see her countenance for her 

soul, 

As birds see not the casement for the sky ? 
And, as 'tis check they prove its presence by, 
I know not of her body till I find 
My flight debarred the heaven of her mind." 

Her Portrait. 

The eternal mother in the heart of a woman, 
and the eternal child in the heart of a man, 
are beautifully voiced in the lines : 

" Ah, foolish pools and meads ! You did 

not see 

Essence of old, essential pure as she : 
For this was even that lady, and none other, 
The man in me calls ' Love/ the child calls 
Mother/ " 

In Her Paths. 

30 



Elsewhere he writes: " The function of 
natural love is to create a craving which it 
cannot satisfy* And then only has its water 
been tasted in perfect purity if it awakens 
an insatiate thirst for wine/' Love has its 
infinite longings, and finite hearts yearn; 
hence, love is at once a joy and a pain. 
Absence of the loved one, lack of response 
either from a sense of duty, and of loyalty to 
others, or from sheer poverty of heart and 
soul, bring to the lover a sense of insuffi- 
ciency or of desolation. Love's Almsman 
thus " plaineth his fare ": 

" But little food Love's beggars needs must 

serve, 
That eye your plenteous graces from the 

street. 

A handclasp I must feed on for a night, 
A noon, although the untasted feast you lay, 
To mock me, of your beauty. That you 

might 

Be lover for one space, and make essay 
What 'tis to pass unsuppered to your couch, 
Keep fast from love all day; and so be 

taught 

31 c 



The famine which these craving lines 

avouch ! 
Ah ! miser of good things that cost thee 

naught, 
How know'st thou poor men's hunger ? 

Misery, 
When I go doleless and unfed by thee/' 

A lighter note is struck in Scala Jacobi t 
where he laments the absence of his beloved : 

" Now she is drawn up from me; 
All my angels, wet-eyed, tristful, 

Gaze from great 

Heaven's gate 

Like pent children, very wistful, 
That below a playmate see." 

There is the same " sweet sorrow " in 
A Carrier Song : 

" Whereso your angel is 

My angel goeth; 
I am left guardianless, 

Paradise knoweth ! 
I have no heaven left 

To weep my wrongs to; 
Heaven, when you went from us, 
Went from my songs too." 
33 



But this sorrow, which is three parts joy, 
gives place to something far more poignant 
in its suggestiveness in the poem entitled 
Absence : 

" To him that waiteth, all things ! 
Even death, if thou wait ! 
And they that part too early 
May meet again too late, 

Ah, fate ! 
If meeting be too late !" 

And the tragic note is sounded in A Holocaust: 

" If my soul cries the uncomprehended cry 
When the red agony oozed on Olivet. 
Yet not for this, a caitiff, falter I, 
Beloved, whom I must lose, nor thence 

regret 
The doubly-vouched and twin allegiance 

owed 
To you in Heaven, and Heaven in you, 

Lady. 
How could you hope, loose dealer with my 

God, 

That I should keep for you my fealty ? 
For still 'tis thus: because I am so true, 
My Fair, to heaven, I am so true to you/' 

33 



Here we have a thought almost exactly 
parallel with that expressed in Christina 
Rossetti's sonnet: 

* Trust me, I have not earned your dear 
rebuke." 



In speaking of a friend who failed to under- 
stand his dramatic sequence, A Narrow 
Vessel, he once wrote: " He could not under- 
stand that all human love was to me a symbol 
of the divine love ; nay, that human love was 
in my eyes a piteous failure unless as an 
image of the Supreme Love which gave mean- 
ing and reality to its seeming insanity.'* 
How perfectly love of the Creator and of 
the creature are united in the heart of 
a true lover he tells us in My Lady, the 
Tyranness: 

" I have my heaven, 
For which no arm of hers has striven; 

Which solitary I must choose, 

'And solitary win or lose. 
Ah, but not heaven my own endures ! 

I must perforce 

34 



Taste you, my stream, in God your source, 
So steep my heaven in yours." 

In Ultimum he soars yet higher : 

" Love is dead ! 

I slew, that moan for him: he lifted me 
Above myself, and that I might not be 
Less than myself, need was that he should 

die; 
Since Love, that first did wing, now clogged 

me from the sky. 

" And, Lady, thus I dare to say 
Not all with you is passed away ! 
Beyond your star, still, still the stars are 

bright; 

Beyond your highness, still I follow height; 
Sole I go forth, yet still to my sad view, 
Beyond your trueness, Lady, Truth stands 

true." 

In Paganism Old and New he teaches the 
selfsame lesson: " Poor, indeed, if this were 
all the promise which love unfolded to us 
the encountering light of two flames from 
within their close-shut lanterns. Therefore 
sings Dante, and sing all noble poets after 
35 



him, that Love in this world is a pilgrim and 
a wanderer, journeying to the New Jerusalem; 
not here is the consummation of his yearn- 
ings, in that mere knocking at the gate of 
union which we christen marriage, but 
beyond the pillars of death and the corridors 
of the grave, in the union of spirit to spirit 
within the containing spirit of God." 

Not less attractive to Francis Thompson 
than the purity of woman was the innocence 
of children. Yet he is not the children's 
poet. Unlike Stevenson, he does not stoop 
to their level, except, perhaps, in the delight- 
ful poem Ex Ore Infantium, where, with all 
the tenderness of Blake and the familiar 
reverence of Coventry Patmore, he voices 
for us the child's apprehension of the awful 
truth of those mysterious words, " Et 
Verbum Caro factum est, et habitavit in 
nobis " : 

44 Little Jesus, wast Thou shy 
Once, and just so small as I ? 
And what did it feel like to be 
Out of heaven, and just like me ? 



36 



Hadst Thou ever any toys, 
Like us little girls and boys ? 
And didst Thou play in heaven with all 
The Angels that were not too tall, 
With stars for marbles ? Did the things 
Play ' Can you see me ?' through their 
wings ? 

And did Thy Mother at the night 
Kiss Thee, and fold the clothes in right ? 
And didst Thou feel quite good in bed, 
Kissed, and sweet, and Thy prayers said ?" 



We leave to those whose privilege it is to 
turn a child's early thoughts to high and holy 
things to decide whether this is as true to 
child-nature as it is to the best traditions of 
poetry, 

In The Making of Viola Thompson de- 
scribes the making of a little child in heaven, 
and by a most beautiful conceit conveys to 
us an idea of the dignity, the grandeur, the 
pricelessness of the child's soul and body. 
Here he seems to show his direct descent 
from Crashaw. There is the same luxuriant 

37 



imagery, the same sweet tenderness trans- 
figured by the same high faith. 

In speaking of Francis Thompson's poems 
on children we naturally revert to those of 
Blake and Wordsworth. Blake makes him- 
self a child with children; hence his songs 
are characterised by utter simplicity and sin- 
cerity, whether he voice the child's joy or its 
sorrow. Wordsworth, with all the know- 
ledge and understanding of Blake, sees in the 
child's simplicity and purity a reflex of the 
simplicity and purity of the Most High, hence 
his attitude towards the child is marked by 
a profound reverence and wonder expressed 
in terms of measured restraint. In Thomp- 
son's poems we have the tenderness and 
familiarity of Blake and the reverent wonder 
of Wordsworth, but we have more. The love 
of a child, which to many world-worn souls 
brings balm and healing and comfort, was 
to the poor self-tortured spirit of Thompson 
a fresh source of pain. Their innocent 
prattle, their caprice, their waywardness, 
even their very love-tokens, transform them- 
selves into thorns which torment his sad 
38 



heart. That he is strongly attracted by 
them is abundantly evident: 

44 For if in Eden as on earth are we, 
I sure shall keep a younger company/' 

And his epitaph, 44 Look for me in the 
nurseries of heaven/' has already become 
almost a household phrase. Yet, though 
he so loved children and was so loved by 
them, one asks if he were ever a child with 
them. 
He tells us in The Poppy how 

" A child and man paced side by side, 
Treading the skirts of eventide ; 
But between the clasp of his hand and hers 
Lay, felt not, twenty withered years. 

" She turned with the rout of her dusk South 

hair, 

And saw the sleeping gipsy there; 
And snatched and snapped it in swift 

child's whim, 
With * Keep it long as you live !' to 

him. 

39 



" And his smile/ as nymphs from their laving 

meres, 

Trembled up from a bath of tears; 
And joy/ like a mew sea-rocked apart/ 
Tossed on the wave of his troubled heart. 

" For he saw what she did not see/ 
That as kindled by its own fervency 
The verge shrivelled inward smoulder- 

ingly: 

And suddenly 'twixt his hand and hers 
He knew the twenty withered years 
No flower/ but twenty shrivelled years/' 

The love-token becomes " the withered 
flower of dreams/" a silent witness of the 
wasted years; the subjective mind falls back 
upon itself/ hiding the golden gleam of love 
behind the dark cloud of morbid self-con- 
demnation/ of self-pity, 

44 The sleep flower sways in the wheat its 

head, 

Heavy with dreams/ as that with bread: 
The goodly grain and the sun-flushed 

sleeper 
The reaper reaps/ and Time the reaper. 

40 



" I hang 'mid men my needless head, 
And my fruit is dreams, as theirs is 

bread : 

The goodly men, and the sun-hazed sleeper 
Time shall reap, but after the reaper 
The world shall glean of me me, the 

sleeper. 

" Love ! I fall into the claws of Time; 
But lasts within a leaved rhyme 
All that the world of me esteems 
My withered dreams, my withered 
dreams." 

And the poem ends with a cry of anguish 
from a heart overweighted with a sense 
of wasted powers and wasted years. 
In Daisy he sings of her who gave him 

44 A look, a word of her winsome mouth, 
And a wild raspberry/' 

Once more for a short space the sun 
shines out: 

" A berry red, a guileless look, 
A still word, strings of sand ! 

And yet they made my wild, wild heart 
Fly down to her little hand." 

41 



But once more, too, the dark cloud lowers: 

' The fairest things have fleetest end, 

Their scent survives their close: 
But the rose's scent is bitterness 
To him that loved the rose. 

" She looked a little wistfully, 

Then went her sunshine way: 
The sea's eye had a mist on it, 
And the leaves fell from the day. 

" She went her unremembering way, 

She went and left in me 
The pang of all the partings gone, 
And partings yet to be." 

In Sister Songs he celebrates the charms 
of Monica and Sylvia, whose " young sex is 
yet but in their soul." There are wonderful 
thoughts in these poems thoughts of faith, 
of hope, and of love; but here, too, the in- 
evitable sadness resulting from a vivid 
realisation of the mutability of youth, as of 
all created things, is expressed in the unfading 
lines : 

42 



44 Now pass your ways, fair bird, and pass 

your ways, 
If you will; 

I have you through the days ! 
And flit or hold you still, 
And perch you where you list 

On what wrist, 
You are mine through the times ! 
I have caught you fast forever in a tangle 

of sweet rhymes. 
And in your young maiden morn 

You may scorn, 
But you must be 
Bound and sociate to me; 
With this thread from out the tomb my 
dead hand shall tether thee !" 

Though these poems on childhood possess 
undoubted charm, yet one may well question 
whether they take high rank, even among 
Thompson's own works. The subjective 
note, so persistent in them all, informs them 
with a pathos fascinating and artistic it may 
be, but at the same time fatally morbid. 
The poet himself looms largely in them all; 
he is studying his own moods, and sad moods 
they are. Lest this judgment sound harsh, 
43 



let his own words endorse it. In his essay 
on Shelley he writes: " We of this self- 
conscious incredulous generation senti- 
mentalise our children, analyse our children, 
think we are endowed with a special capacity 
to sympathise and identify ourselves with 
children; we play at being children. And 
the result is that we are not more childlike, 
but our children are less childlike. It is so 
tiring to stoop to the child, so much easier 
to lift the child up to you." And Francis 
Thompson, I think, in his poems on child- 
hood more often chooses the line of least 
resistance. 

Entirely different from that of Wordsworth 
or Shelley was Thompson's conception of 
Nature. Neither Pantheist nor Pagan, he 
held that God is the source of all thought 
and reality, not as the universal Being, nor 
as the formal constituent principle of things, 
but as their efficient cause, operating in and 
through each, and as the final cause for which 
they exist. In the essay entitled Nature's 
Immortality, he makes the following definite 
and quaintly humorous pronouncement: 
44 



" To commune with the heart of Nature 
this has been the accredited mode since the 
days of Wordsworth. Nature, Coleridge 
assures us, has ministrations by which she 
heals her erring and distempered child; 
and it is notorious how effectual were her 
ministrations in the case of Coleridge." 

" Well, she is a very lovely Nature in this 
Sicily of mine, yet I confess a heinous doubt 
whether rustic stolidity may not be a secret 
effluence from her. You speak and you think 
she answers you. It is the echo of your own 
voice. You think you hear the throbbing of 
her heart, and it is the throbbing of your own. 
I do not believe that Nature has a heart; 
and I suspect that, like many another beauty, 
she has been credited with a heart because 
of her face. You go to her, this great, 
beautiful, tranquil, self-satisfied Nature, and 
you look for sympathy ! Yes, the sympathy 
of a cat, sitting by the fire and blinking at you. 
What, indeed, does she want with a heart 
or brain ? She knows that she is beautiful, 
and she is placidly content with the know- 
ledge; she was made to be gased on, and she 
45 



fulfils the end of her creation. After a careful 
anatomisation of Nature, I pronounce that 
she has nothing more than a lymphatic 
vesicle* She cannot give what she does not 
need; and, if we were but similarly organised, 
we should be independent of sympathy. A 
man cannot go straight to his objects, because 
he has a heart; he cannot eat, drink, sleep, 
make money, and be satisfied, because he has 
a heart. It is a mischievous thing, and wise 
men accordingly take the earliest oppor- 
tunity of giving it away. 

!< Yet the thing, after all, is too deep for a 
jest. What is this heart of Nature, if it 
exists at all ? Is it, according to the con- 
ventional doctrine derived from Wordsworth 
and Shelley, a heart of love, according with 
the heart of man, and stealing out to him 
through a thousand avenues of mute sym- 
pathy ? No; in this sense I repeat seriously 
what I said lightly, Nature has no heart. . . . 
O Titan Nature ! a petty race which has 
dwarfed its spirit in dwellings, and bounded 
it in selfish shallows of art, may find you too 
vast, may shrink from you into its earths; 
46 



but though you be a very large thing, and 
my heart a very little thing, yet, Titan as you 
are, my heart is too great for you. Coleridge 
speaking not as Wordsworth had taught 
him to speak, but from his own bitter ex- 
perience said the truth: 

! ' O Lady ! we receive but what we give, 
And in our life alone does Nature live; 
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her 
shroud 1 

'"I may not hope from outward forms to win 
The passion and the life whose fountains 
are within/ 

" The truth, in relation to ourselves, though 
not the truth with regard to Nature absolutely. 
Absolute Nature lives not in our life, nor 
yet is lifeless, but lives in the life of God; 
and in so far, and so far merely, as man himself 
lives in that life, does he come into sympathy 
with Nature and Nature with him. She 
is God's daughter, who stretches her hand 
only to her Father's friends. Not Shelley, 
not Wordsworth himself, ever drew so close 
47 D 



to the heart of Nature as did the Seraph of 
Assisi who was close to the heart of God." 

Later on in the same essay he says: " One 
thing prevents 'Adonais * from being ideally 
perfect its lack of Christian hope. Yet 
we remember well the writer of a popular 
memoir on Keats proposing as ' the best 
consolation for the mind pained by this 
sad record ' Shelley's inexpressibly sad ex- 
position of Pantheistic immortality: 

" * He is a portion of that loveliness 
Which once he made more lovely/ 

What utter desolation can it be that discerns 
comfort in this hope whose wan counte- 
nance is the countenance of a despair ? . . . 
What deepest depth of agony is it that finds 
consolation in this immortality ah immor- 
tality which thrusts you into the maw of 
Nature, that your dissolved elements may 
circulate through her? . . . Why, through 
the thin partition of this consolation Panthe- 
ism can hear the groans of its neighbour 
Pessimism." Yet, later, he justly remarks: 
" Pantheism is a half-way house, and marks 
48 ' 



ascent or descent according to the direction 
from which it is approached. Now Shelley 
came to it from absolute Atheism; therefore, 
in his case it meant rise/* 

I have quoted thus lengthily because the 
poet's own Credo concerning Nature is better 
than its exposition by another. In the poem 
Nature: Laud and Plaint we have the same 
ideas conveyed in almost identical words. 

Prompted, perhaps, by the liturgical anti- 
phon, O Oriens, he sees in the sun a type of 
Christ giving life to the Earth: 

" Lo, of thy Magians I, the least, 
Haste with my gold, my incenses and 

myrrhs, 

To thy desired epiphany, from the spiced 
Regions and odorous of Song's traded East. 
Thou, for the life of all that live, 
The victim daily born and sacrificed; 
To whom the pinion of this longing verse 
Beats but with fire which first thyself did 

give, 
To thee, O Sun or is't, perchance, to 

Christ?" 

Orient Ode. 

49 



In his Ode to the Setting Sun, he sees it 
standing out against the dark background 
of the horizon as the body of Christ hanging 
upon the dark wood of the Cross : 

" Like Him thou hang'st in dreadful pomp 

of blood 

Upon thy western rood; 
And His stained brow did vail like thine 

to-night, 

^.Yet lift once more Its light. 
And, risen, again departed from our 

ball, 

But when It set on earth arose in 
heaven." 

As the human lover who views and 
measures all things in relation to his beloved, 
so does the poet see all things in relation to 
the great Lover of Souls. 

In New Year's Chimes he sings : 

" What is the song the stars sing ? 
(And a million songs are as song of one.) 
This is the song the stars sing: 
(Sweeter song's none). 

***** 
50 



' The world above in the world below, 
(And a million worlds are but as one) 
And the One in all; as the sun's strength so 
Strives in all strength, glows in all glow 
Of the earth that wits not, and man 
thereon. 

" Braced in its own fourfold embrace 
(And a million strengths are as strength of 

one), 

And round it all God's arms of grace, 
The world, so as the Vision says, 
Doth with great lightning-tramples run." 

He describes how a simple Field Flower 
springs from the hand of God: 

" God took a fit of Paradise-wind, 
A slip of ccerule weather, 
A thought as simple as Himself, 
And ravelled them together. 
Unto His eyes He held it there, 
To teach it gazing debonair 
With memory of what, perdie, 
A God's young innocences were. 
His fingers pushed it through the sod 
It came up redolent of God, 
Garrulous of the eyes of God 
To all the breezes near it; 



Musical of the mouth of God 
To all had ears to hear it; 
Mystical with the mirth of God 
That glow-like did ensphere it." 

A Snowflake tells us: 

" God was my shaper. 

Passing surmisal, 
He hammered, He wrought me, 

From curled silver vapour 

iTo lust of His mind: 
Thou couldst not have thought me ! 

So purely, so palely, 

Tinily, surely, 

Mightily, frailly. 
Insculped and embossed 
With His hammer of wind, 
And His graver of frost." 

I have already alluded to the knowledge 
which he gained in his years at Ushaw of 
the stately ritual of the Catholic Church. 
" Ritual " he defined as " poetry addressed 
to the eye." That he turned his knowledge 
to good account is everywhere evident, but 

53 



never in more telling imagery than in The 
Orient Ode : 

" Lo, in the sanctuaried East, 
Day, a dedicated priest, 
In all his robes pontifical exprest, 
Lifteth slowly, lifteth sweetly, 
From out its Orient tabernacle drawn, 

Yon orbed sacrament confest, 
Which sprinkles benediction through the 

dawn; 

And when the grave procession's ceased, 
The earth with due illustrious rite 
Blessed, ere the frail fingers featly 
Of twilight, violet-cassocked acolyte, 
His sacerdotal stoles invest 
Sets, for high close of the mysterious 

feast, 

The sun in august exposition meetly 
Within the flaming monstrance of the 
West." 

How wonderfully this man's thoughts 
play round the light that streams from the 
Sacrament of the Altar ! " Pleni sunt cceli 
et terra gloria tua !" sing earth, and sea, and 
sky; and man, too, sings, " Hosanna in ex- 
celsis I" 

53 



The reader of Francis Thompson cannot 
but be impressed by the undertone of plain- 
tive sadness which characterises nearly all 
his poems* Now, it is the gentle melancholy 
leucocholy, as Gray calls it native to 
the sensitive temperament of the artist 

" She left me marvelling why my soul 

Was sad that she was glad; 

At all the sadness in the sweet, 

The sweetness in the sad." 

Or it is a sadness induced by the pain of 
poetic travail, as in Urania, where he com- 
plains: 

" Lo, I, Song's most true lover, plain me 

sore 
That worse than other women she can 

deceive, 
For she being goddess, I have given her 

more 
Than mortal ladies from their loves receive. 



54 



" Now of her cozening I complain me sore, 

Seeing her uses, 
That still, more constantly she is pursued, 

And straitlier wooed, 
Her only-adored favour more refuses, 

And leaves me to implore 
Remembered boon in bitterness of blood/' 

Again, it is the pain of loneliness, the special 
trial of all who are stamped with the hall- 
mark of genius; and, indeed, though in less 
measure, the trial of every human being; 
thus he describes the soul: 

' The hold that falls not when the town is got, 
The heart's heart, whose immured plot 
Hath keys yourself keep not ! 

" Its gates are deaf to Love, high summoner; 
Yea, Love's great warrant runs not there : 
You are your prisoner. 

' Yourself are with yourself the sole con- 

sortress 

In that unleaguerable fortress; 
It knows you not for portress* 

55 



" Its keys are at the cincture hung of God ; 

Its gates are trepidant to His nod; 
By Him its floors are trod/' 

A Fallen Yew. 

Or it is the very loneliness of pain, as in the 
After-Strain of The Ode to the Setting Sun: 

" Even so, O Cross ! thine is the victory. 
Thy roots are fast within our fairest fields; 
Brightness may emanate in Heaven from 

thee, 
Here thy dread symbol only shadow yields. 

" Of reaped joys thou art the heavy sheaf 
Which must be lifted, though the reaper 

groan; 
.Yea, we may cry till Heaven's great ear be 

deaf, 
But we must bear thee, and must bear 

alone/' 

In Retrospect he cries: 

" Alas ! and I have sung 
Much song of matters vain, 
And a heaven-sweetened tongue 
Turned to unprofiting strain. 



" What profit if the sun 
Put forth his radiant thews, 
And on his circuit run, 
Even after my device, to this and to that 

use; 

And the true Orient, Christ, 
Make not His cloud of thee ? 
I have sung vanity 
And nothing well devised/' 

The same note of remorse for wasted op- 
portunities is struck in the last lines of the 
sonnet House of Bondage : 

" I scorn myself, that put for such strange 

toys 
The wit of man to purposes of boys." 

There are times when Francis Thompson 
seems overweighted with the sense of pain 
and suffering. Pain is, in spite of the Chris- 
tian Scientist: 

44 Nothing begins and nothing ends 

That is not paid with moan; 
For we are born in other's pain, 
And perish in our own/' 

57 



Pain is inevadible; it is the condition of all 
growth, of all life, whether physical, intel- 
lectual, or moral: 

* Thou pacest either frontier where our life 
Marches with GocTs; both birth and death 

are given 

Into thy lordship; those debated lands 
Are subject to thy hands : 
The border-warden, thou, of heaven." 

Laus Amara Doloris. 
The same idea: 

' That from spear and thorn alone 
May be grown 

For the front of saint or singer any diviniz- 
ing twine," 

is thec entral theme of that wonderful poem 
The Mistress of Vision. 

But comes the world-old question, " Why 
should this be so?" Try as we may, we 
cannot explain it; for pain is a mystery 
transcending all mere human reasoning. 
Yet, as Pascal reminds us, " the heart has its 
own reasons that reason does not compre- 
58 



hend," and mind and heart both tell us that 
had there been a higher or a nobler way of 
suffering, He Who was " a Man of Sorrows 
and acquainted with grief " would have 
pointed it out to us, nay, would Himself have 
trod it. To our earth-bound vision pain 
and suffering may seem hard, especially when 
those who suffer are the innocent; but when 
our limited ideas of justice are one day ex- 
panded into the Divine standard, 

" Deep set within the deep delight 
Will be to know why all was right/' 

And it is no merely passive acquiescence 
in pain which Francis Thompson teaches. 
The Christian soul, looking upon the suffer- 
ing Christ, desires to suffer with Him. 
Christ alone can adequately atone for sin, 
but the soul desires, from a two-fold spirit 
of reparation and love, to add her own ex- 
piations to His. For His sake, then, she is 
not only willing to surfer, but she seeks to 
surfer; she is not only willing to accept the 
cross, but she embraces it. 

59 



In The Mistress of Vision he asks : 

" On Golgotha there grew a thorn 
Round the long pre-figured Brows. 

Mourn, O mourn ! 

For the vine have we the spine ? Is this 
all the heaven allows ?" 

And swiftly comes the answer: 

" On Calvary was shook a spear; 
Press the point into thy heart 

Joy and fear ! 
All the spines upon the thorn into curling 

tendrils start," 

It has been wisely said that it is not what 
we take up, but what we give up that makes 
life truly worth living, and this lesson of 
renunciation finds its place, too, in the same 
poem: 

" With thee take 

Only what none else would keep; 
Learn to dream when thou dost wake, 
Learn to wake when thou dost sleep, 
Learn to water joy with tears, 
Learn from fears to vanquish fears; 

60 



To hope, for thou dar'st not despair, 
Exult, for that thou dar'st not grieve; 
Plough thou the rock until it bear; 
Know, for thou else couldst not believe ; 
Lose, that the lost thou may'st receive; 
Die, for none other way canst live. 
When earth and heaven lay down their 

veil, 

And that apocalypse turns thee pale; 
When thy seeing blindeth thee 
To what thy fellow-mortals see; 
When their sight to thee is sightless; 
Their living, death; their light, most 

lightless, 

Search no more 
Pass the gates of Luthany, tread the region 

Elenore." 

A hard saying ! It may be; and yet, 
in the tragic years of the Great War, how 
many brave young souls at the call of duty 
generously accepted it, and made the supreme 
sacrifice ! 

In the light of present-day events, and in 
the stress of a common sorrow, it is both in- 
teresting and salutary to remember the warn- 
ings which Francis Thompson gave to the 
61 



England of his own day. Of the nineteenth 
century he wrote: 

" This is she 
That rose 'midst dust of a down-tumbled 

world, 
And dies with rumour on the air 

Of preparation 

For a more ample devastation, 
And death of ancient fairness no more fair. 



" Let it grieve, grey Dame, 
Thy passing spirit, God wot, 
Thou wast half-hearted, wishing peace, 

but not 

The means of it. The avaricious flame 
Thou'st fanned, which thou shouldst tame." 

The Nineteenth Century. 

There is the same note of warning and 
rebuke in the poem Peace, written in 1902, 
on the occasion of the South African treaty. 
Reminding England that she, for whom so 
many children greatly bleed, stands doubly 
pledged to greatness, he continues: 
62 



But wilt thou, England, stand 

With vigilant heart and prescient brain ? 

Knowing there is no peace 

Such as fools deem, of equal-balanced 

ease : 

That they who build the State 
Must, like the builders of Jerusalem, 
The trowel in their hand, 
Work with the sword laid ever nigh to 

them. 

If thou hold Honour worth gain 
At price of gold and pain; 
And all thy sail and cannon somewhat more 
Than the fee'd watchers of the rich man's 

store ; 
If thou discern the thing which all these 

ward 

Is that imperishable thing, a Name, 
And that Name England; . . . 

That in this Name's small girth 
The treasure is thy sword and navies 
guard, . . . 

: Wilt stay the war of all with all at odd, 
And teach thy jarring sons 
True innate once, 

6 3 E 



That in the whole alone the part is blest 

and great* 

O should this fire of war thus purge away 
The inveterate stains of too-long ease, 
And yield us back our Empire's clay 
Into one shoreless State, 
Compact and hardened for its uses; these 
No futile sounds of joyance are to-day; 
Lord, unrebuked we may 
Call this Thy peace ! 

" And in this day be not 

Wholly forgot 
They that made possible, but shall not 

see, 

Our solemn jubilee, 
Peace most to them who lie 
Beneath unnative sky, 

In whose still hearts is dipt 
Our reconciling script: 
Peace ! but when shouts shall start the 

housetop bird, 

Let these, that speak not, be the loudest 
heard." 

Prophetic in its utterance is the short poem 
on Faith entitled Lilium Regis. 
64 



O Lily of the King ! low lies thy silver wing, 
And long has been the hour of thine un- 

queening; 
And thy scent of Paradise on the night-wind 

spills its sighs, 

Nor any take the secrets of its meaning. 
O Lily of the King ! I speak a heavy thing, 
Oh, patience, most sorrowful of daughters ! 
Lo, the hour is at hand for the troubling 

of the land, 
And red shall be the breaking of the waters. 



Sit fast upon thy stalk, when the blast 

shall with thee talk, 
With the mercies of the King for thine 

awning; 
And the just understand that thine hour 

is at hand, 
Thine hour at hand with power in the 

dawning. 
When the nations lie in blood, and their 

kings a broken brood, 
Look up, O most sorrowful of daughters ! 
Lift up thy head and hark what sounds are 

in the dark, 
For His feet are coming to thee on the 

waters. 

65 



" O Lily of the King ! I shall not see, that 

sing, 

I shall not see the hour of thy queening ! 
But my song shall see, and wake like a 

flower that dawn-winds shake, 
And sigh with joy the odours of its meaning. 
O Lily of the King, remember then the 

thing 
That this dead mouth sang; and thy 

daughters, 
As they dance before His way, sing there 

on the Day 
What I sang when the Night was on the 

waters. 

Of him who defined Poetry as " a criticism 
of life " Francis Thompson writes : 

44 Then came somewhat apart 
In a fastidious dream 
Arnold, with a half-discontented calm 
Binding up wcunds, but pouring in no 
balm." 

The Victorian Ode. 

Poor criticism of life, indeed, thinks the 
Catholic poet, and think countless others, if 
it be a cold and comfortless negation; if it 
66 



deny all, and affirm nothing; if it pull down, 
and cannot rebuild. A poet's interpretation 
of life depends on his attitude towards God. 
He may turn from Him and vainly " conspire 
to mend this sorry scheme of things," or he 
may turn to Him, finding in Him the solution 
of all problems that vex his soul; but one 
thing is certain the help, the healing, and 
the strength which Matthew Arnold claims 
as the special benefits to be derived from 
poetry depend entirely on the right orientation 
of the mind, the heart, and the soul of the 
poet. 

To Francis Thompson, Christ, the true 
Orient, was the central figure of life; the 
unseen world an ever-present reality. He 
turns to God as a child turns to its earthly 
father and cries: 



' Why do you so clasp me, 
And draw me to your knee ? 
Forsooth, you do but chafe me, 
I pray you let me be. 
I will but be loved now and then 
When it liketh me/ " 

67 



Then, he continues: 

' To the tender God I turn: 
4 Pardon, Love most High, 
For I think those arms were even Thine, 
And that child even I/ " 

Love and the Child. 

And he realises to the full the true liberty 
of the children of God : 

" Hardest servitude has he 
That's jailed in arrogant liberty, 
And freedom, spacious and unflawed, 
Who is walled about with God." 

In Any Saint he brings home to us at once 
the littleness and greatness of the man whom 
the King delights to honour: 

" Stoop, stoop; for thou dost fear 
The nettle's wrathful spear, 

So slight 
Art thou of might. 

" Rise; for heaven hath no frown 
When thou to thee pluck'st down, 

Strong clod ! 
The neck of God." 
68 



Elsewhere he writes : 

" Short arm needs man to reach to heaven, 
So ready is heaven to stoop to him/' 

It was, indeed, this consciousness, not 
merely of the reality, but of the nearness of 
the unseen world, this intimate sense of the 
love and friendship of Christ and the Saints 
a love and friendship of which earthly ties 
are but as shadows that inspired all his 
work; that made bearable the dark days and 
nights of the two darkest years of his life. 

" But (when so sad thou canst not sadder) 
Cry; and upon thy so sore loss 
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder 
Pitched betwixt heaven and Charing Cross* 
Yea, in the night, my soul, my daughter, 
Cry, clinging Heaven by the hems; 
And lo, Christ walking on the water, 
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames." 

But if we would understand still better 
this poet's philosophy of life he would 
have called it by another name we shall 
69 



find it fully synthesised in his great poem, 
The Hound of Heaven. Not a point touched 
upon in his other works but finds in that 
noble ode, at least, an implicit reference. 
" Life is a paradox !" cries the philosopher, 
and in the language of paradox the Christian 
poet seeks to find its solution. 

The Hound of Heaven is the story not only 
of Francis Thompson's spiritual wanderings, 
but of those of countless others faced and 
perplexed by the problems of modern life. 
The fast changing kaleidoscope of Time may 
already have readjusted many of the in- 
tricacies of the pattern which the poet traces 
for us, but the broad outlines are the same 
to-day as when he wrote nay, as they will be 
whilst men are men. 

The poem pictures for us in bold and 
daring metaphor the everlasting quest of the 
creature for happiness, and the everlasting 
quest of the Creator for the creature. The 
idea may have been suggested by a somewhat 
parallel poem by the great Spanish mystic, 
St. John of the Cross, but in his work the 
relations are reversed Divine Love is pur- 
70 



sued by the soul. St. John meditates on 
God's transcendence, whilst Thompson 
emphasises His immanence. 

His theme may be summed up in the cry 
of the Psalmist, " Whither shall I go from 
Thy Spirit, and whither shall I fly from 
before Thy Face ?"; or in the confession of 
the great penitent, St. Augustine, '* The 
heart of man is restless till it finds its rest 
in Thee "; or in the wise words of the author 
of The Imitation, " Forsake all, and thou 
shalt find all." 

The whole poem is a variant on the story 
of the Good Shepherd; it is yet one more 
presentation of the fact of God's mercy and 
love. 

In the first great stanza there is an allusion 
to those intellectual movements in the later 
nineteenth century which, admirable in 
themselves, yet in many cases led man to 
over-estimate the power of mere human 
reason. He flies down the labyrinthine ways 
of his own mind, from the light of the 
true Sun, but only to lose himself in 
titanic glooms of chasmed fears, tor- 



mented by varying moods of optimism and 
pessimism* 

" But, with unhurrying chase 
And unperturbed pace, 
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy," 

the Divine Lover pursues him, crying 
reproachfully : 

" ' All things betray thee who betrayest 

Me/ " 

Finding no rest within, the self-sentenced 
outlay/ seeks elsewhere the satisfaction for 
which he craves. He begs for shelter in 
human hearts, asking a love and friendship 
which, forgetful of God, involves a sacrifice 
of moral principle : 

" I tempted all His servitors, but to find 
My own betrayal in their constancy, 
In faith to Him their fickleness to me/' 

BafHed, he wanders " across the margent 

of the world," " troubles the gold gateways 

of the stars," " clings to the whistling mane 

of every wind "; but " Fear wist not to evade 

72 



as Love wist to pursue/' Once more he 
hears the reproachful voice: 

" Naught shelters thee who will not shelter 
Me." 

In the third stanza there is an allusion to the 
modern cult of the child, to the tendency 
less pronounced now, perhaps, than when 
Thompson wrote to consider the child 
merely as a source of amusement and pleasure ; 
to forget its interests in seeking our own. 
Disappointed once more, the fugitive seeks 
comfort from Nature, but once more he 
bitterly confesses: 

" In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's 

grey cheek. 

For, ah ! we know not what each other says, 
These things and I; in sound / speak 
Their sound is but their stir, they speak 

by silences. 
Nature, poor step-dame, cannot slake my 

drouth." 

In the fourth stanza, the soul looks back 
on the failure of its past ideals, on its wasted 
73 



opportunities, and its disillusions. In an 
agony of loneliness and despair it cries : 

" Ah, must- 
Designer infinite ! 

Ah, must Thou char the wood ere Thou 
canst limn with it ?" 

Nothing remains to the wanderer but bitter 
memories of a fruitless past and the oncoming 
terror of Death. Darkness surrounds him on 
all sides, but 

" Now of that long pursuit 

Comes on at hand the bruit; 
That Voice is round me like a bursting 
sea; 

' And is thy earth so marred, 

Shattered in shard on shard ? 
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me ! 
Strange, piteous, futile thing ! 
Wherefore should any set thee love apart ? 
Seeing none but I make much of naught ' 

(He said), 
' And human love needs human meriting; 

How hast thou merited 
Of all men's clotted clay the dingiest clot ? 

Alack, thou knowest not 

74 



How little worthy of any love thou art I 
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee, 

Save Me, save only Me ? 
All which I took from thee I did but take, 

Not for thy harms, 

But just that thou might'st seek it in 
My arms. 

All which thy child's mistake 
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at 
home; 

Rise, clasp My hand, and come !' 

" Halts by me that footfall: 
Is my gloom, after all, 
Shade of His hand outstretched cares- 
singly ?" 

asks the wondering soul. And gently the 
answer falls: 

44 4 Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, 
I am He Whom thou seekest ! 
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest 
Me/ " 

It is life's last lesson. The soul that 
feared 44 lest, having Him, it might have 
naught beside/' realises that the heart of man 
75 



is restless till it finds its rest in God, for in 
Him alone can it find patience without limit, 
satisfaction without satiety, and love without 
change. The Hound of Heaven points to 
the royal road of the Cross, the path of com- 
plete renunciation, whereon walk the heroes 
of the spiritual life with faces steadfastly 
set towards Jerusalem. 

But not alone to those who walk on the 
higher tablelands and breathe a rarer air 
does the poet speak. To the humble way- 
farers who toil along the dusty lower roads 
with aching heart and faltering feet, with eyes 
now downcast, now straining upward to 
catch a glimpse of the mountains whence help 
cometh to these also he bears a divine 
message. He does not bid them strive 
beyond their strength; he does not bid them 
abstain from the fruit of knowledge; he does 
not bid them break all natural ties; he does 
not bid them live their lives without the solace 
of human love; but he tells them that it 
were better to lose any one, or all, of these 
things than run the least risk of losing God. 
" Give God His rightful place in your life," 
76 



he cries, " and, having Him, you shall have 
all besides." 

The Hound of Heaven is the triumphant 
cry of a soul tried and purified in the fire of 
tribulation; a cry which goes straight to the 
hearts of many who find in it the expression 
of certain moods of their own soul, certain 
phases of their own spiritual life; a cry 
which reaches all 

' That stand in the dark on the lowest stair, 
While affirming of God, He is certainly 
there/' 



Printed in England. 



UCSB LIBRARY 





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